The day was overcast, cold, and windy. I fumbled with the transferring of groceries from my Aldi cart to the empty bags in the back of the van. My two-year old sat in the cart, playfully kicking me with his legs as I did my work, adding to the annoyance of the morning. Forgot to wear gloves, didn’t bring enough bags, forgot to unload all the junk from the back of the van so I’d have room for groceries, child won’t stop whining….
Apparently I didn’t do a very good job of hiding my aggravation.
I heard the rattle of cart wheels behind me and then noticed the rattling stop as they reached my location. I waited for a minute or so and then glanced over my shoulder. There stood an elderly man in a thin coat and jeans, a patient smile parting the deep creases on his face. He held out a quarter and asked if he could take my cart for me. His face held my gaze for some time as I marveled at his resemblance to my own grandfather, who had left this world years ago. He was smaller in stature and his face was much gentler, but the similarity was enough to tug at my heart. With a cart already in his hand, it was obvious he was just relieving me from having to return my own.
“Oh–thank you,” I smiled back. “I’ll try and hurry.” I fumbled even more, feeling his silent presence at my back and knowing that he was just as cold as my son and I were.
I finished the unloading and closed the door. In a feeble attempt at being witty I wheeled the cart around towards the man and said with a smile, “Did you want the kid, too, or just the cart?”
Without missing a beat and without the slightest change in his kindly expression he responded: “If my wife were still with me we’d probably take you up on that. We never had any of our own. She had five misses and the doctor told us we shouldn’t try for any more.”
Somehow in the midst of him sharing his story the child was removed, the cart and money exchanged, and then I uttered a weak but sincere “Thank you” before he shuffled off, still smiling. I don’t remember giving him any other response. I felt speechless.
As I drove out of the parking lot, the tears came. Tears of embarrassment for sticking my foot in my mouth. Tears of gratitude for the whiny boy in the backseat. Tears of guilt as I recognized, yet again, how often this gift is taken for granted. Tears of sorrow for loved ones with an empty back seat. But mostly, tears of awe at being in the presence of such kindness, such an awareness of other’s struggles, and such thoughtfulness from someone who had lost so much. Even in what may be the last decade of his life, he was looking for ways to serve, to give out of what some might see as emptiness. But he didn’t look empty to me at all. I have a strong hunch that Someone was keeping him full.
* “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” Proverbs 16:31, KJV